In our minds Heaven is eternal, unchangeable, perfect as is. The beginning of Revelation 21 declares, however, “Then I saw a new Heaven and a new Earth, for the first Heaven and Earth had passed away…”
I understand wanting a new Earth. Though this Earth is beautiful in many ways, it has been damaged by sin and the curse. Its systems work, but not perfectly. The Earth struggles to keep up with its primary inhabitant–mankind. Clearly, God can innovate and create something even better.
But what is wrong with Heaven? First of all, is this even referring to the dwelling place of God? It is an unfortunate use of language that the word used to describe the universe and the word used to describe the dwelling place of God are the same word. Usually, the universe is plural and God’s house is singular. To the ancient mind this use of language made sense. They viewed reality as concentric circles. The first heaven being our atmosphere, the second the observable universe and the third being the realm of God. Paul uses this language to describe an out-of-body that he experienced. He describes going to the “third Heaven”.
The geometry of concentric circles is not prescribed in Scripture, so we don’t have to think about it that way. The problem still remains. To what space is Revelation 21 referring? While it could refer to any of the above mentioned “Heavens”, I expect the renovation project to encompass all of them. Revelation 21:5 says, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
We tend to glamorize Heaven, the realm of God, a bit. We often use the word “perfect” to describe it, but for millennia it was not perfect. Satan’s rebellion started there and Satan himself remained a part of it. It took a “war” (Rev. 12:7) to cast Satan out. While I expect Heaven to be mind-bogglingly beautiful, God probably likes a space with a clean history. One difference will be where God dwells. Heaven will not become the New Earth. The New Earth will become the dwelling place of God.
People seem to insist on conflating the New Heaven and the New Earth. They are mentioned separately because they are separate. As I noted in the last blog entry, this doesn’t mean that we won’t have access. I expect one of the attractions of post-Judgment Day life will be the ability to move both across space and dimensions with ease. The angels seem to do it, why not us?
Imagine how exciting that would be. A whole universe to explore and, if that is not enough, one more! Another planet or the New Heaven itself would be like a day trip away.
Revelation 21:4 says, “the first (or former) things passed away.” Which things? Hard to say exhaustively. The curse and sin will be gone for sure. Satan and his cohort also gone. The painful memories of the past are gone. Only what is sanctified by God will remain. Possibly many of the physical restraints we now experience will be changed or eliminated completely. Maybe even certain laws of physics or “constants” of nature.
We don’t have to know, because God assures us that we will love it. Still, it is exciting to imagine and such a promise turns our eyes from our current struggles in the sense that we know that they will all be temporary. We remain engaged in working to improve life and care for the current creation because God desires us to do so, but we understand that a total remodel is not that far away. Through our connection to Christ we will be a part of it.